Morton Arboretum to borrow $20 million with DuPage County's help

 
 
Updated 4/26/2017 7:24 AM
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  • The Morton Arboretum in Lisle plans to use the $20 million loan the DuPage County Board approved Tuesday to pay down existing debts and fund new projects.

    The Morton Arboretum in Lisle plans to use the $20 million loan the DuPage County Board approved Tuesday to pay down existing debts and fund new projects. Daily Herald file photo

DuPage County Board members have approved an agreement with the Morton Arboretum that will allow the tree museum in Lisle to borrow $20 million.

Most of the money from the loan will be used to refinance some of the arboretum's existing debt. The remaining $7 million will help pay for new projects, including the redevelopment of the South Farm, which serves as the operations and plant production hub for the 1,700-acre arboretum.

After the resolution was approved Tuesday, county board Chairman Dan Cronin said DuPage will serve as a conduit for the arboretum to get the loan. The county has no liability -- financial or otherwise -- in the transaction.

"We are facilitating the needs of a very important institution," Cronin said. "The Morton Arboretum is a virtuous organization, and they need some assistance."

With the county's involvement, the arboretum can get better interest rates than it could on its own.

"The county basically just puts its name behind it and otherwise has no attachment or liability whatsoever to the bonds," said James Fawley, the arboretum's vice president of finance and chief financial officer. "We will be issuing the bonds. A bank will be purchasing the bonds and essentially taking on all the liability associated with our paying them back."

The arboretum and county had a similar arrangement in 2003, when the arboretum borrowed $42 million to build its visitor center, children's garden and other improvements.

Officials said $13 million of the new money the arboretum plans to borrow will be used to reduce the 2003 debt to $29 million, which must be repaid by 2038.

The $20 million loan will need to be repaid by 2047.

In the meantime, the arboretum plans to use $7 million of the loan to pay for new projects.

One project is to construct a new administration center for the arboretum's education department. The future building will replace the Thornhill Annex and the Outpost.

Some of the $7 million also will help pay for the larger South Farm project, which started in February 2016. That work includes construction of a new operations building, transportation center, and expanded plant production facilities, officials said.

Once the project is completed, the South Farm will have "new facilities appropriate for today," Fawley said.

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